Helping Children When Bad Things Happen

Helping Children When Bad Things Happen - Parenting Like Hannah
Photo by 9/11 Photos

As I am writing this, the news is focused on yet another horrific tragedy. When horrible events happen in our world, it is easy to become glued to the television to try and somehow wrap our brains around the terrible thing that has happened. I believe it is especially hard for those who love God to see the results of hate and evil played out in such dramatic and life changing ways. It may even shake our faith on some level.

The hardest part is helping our children deal with the harsh realities of a fallen world. Especially, when at times, we feel like we are barely hanging on ourselves. I think that if we combine the advice often given by psychologists, with scripture and a little common sense, we can follow a few tips to help us and our children process traumatic world events with a godly perspective.

This list doesn’t cover everything. (I am not a licensed therapist.  If you believe you or your child are struggling beyond what is normal in a situation, please seek professional counsel from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist-preferably a Christian). Here are some things that have worked for us:

  • Unless your area is in possible danger, turn off the television! If the danger is in your area or may be spreading to your area, keep the television on in a room removed from the children with the volume as low as possible. Do not allow your children to enter the room. I know this sounds drastic, but images can burn themselves on your brain and cause unnecessary trauma. There are studies which support the idea that our brain has trouble sorting out things we have seen, even in fictional programs, and things we have experienced as far as the resulting trauma. From a scriptural stand point, Paul writes in Philippians 4:8 to focus our thoughts on good, pure and lovely things. It is not best for you and especially your children to see gory events over and over or hear the traumatic stories re-told. Most of the time I have found online newspapers to be very quick in getting the details and straightening them out for their readers. You need enough information to keep your family safe, check on friends and loved ones and to know how you can help those who are hurting. Everything else just adds stress to your life and the lives of your children.
  • Give your children age appropriate information. Unless your children are totally isolated, they will hear about what happened at some point. Young children only need confirmation that something bad happened, but that the authorities are working hard to keep everyone safe. You may want to add that as soon as you can find out how your family can help those who were hurt, you will let them help too. Older children can get more information and probably will online. Have discussions which answer any questions they may have and address any fears you can. Do not make promises you can’t keep. If in doubt, promise your children that you and your spouse will do everything you can to keep the family safe and remind them God is in control.
  • Remind yourself and your children God is in control. Sometimes it seems the world around us is totally out of control. I remember after 9/11 I felt that way for a time. I found it interesting that older people were so much calmer. They reminded me they had lived through the uncertainty of World War II and had learned to trust God. Horrible things happen because we live in a fallen world. Bad things will happen to Christians too sometimes. God is in control though and ultimately He will win the war. Perfect love casts out fear. (I John 4:18) Christians will spend eternity in Heaven and remembering that promise can help ease our fears and the fears of our children.
  • Read Psalms. Ironically, my reading in my chronological Bible today included Psalms 140. The Psalms are full of wonderful, reassuring words when we struggle with fear, doubt and frustration. The Psalms David wrote while fleeing Saul are particularly comforting to me in situations like the Boston Marathon tragedy. Read them aloud to your children and discuss their meaning and how we can take comfort in their words. The story of David contains many times when he had to turn to God for support in scary situations. David’s story also shows how God did intervene many times to keep David safe.
  • Pray. There is something so very comforting about turning your concerns and fears over to God. Teach your children to pray whenever they are scared or confused. Teach them to trust God and His Plan even when they don’t understand it. Remind them to look at the big picture and not get so stressed about what is happening at this very minute.
  • Try to have adult conversations in private, particularly if you have young children. Your children may have their own worries about the situation, they do not need to add additional worries which may not have occurred to them to their list. It is ok for your children to know you are sad, but they also need to see hope and trust of God in your eyes when they look at you.
  • At some point, especially with older children, you need to have discussions about the Fall and “why bad things happen to good people”. These are tough questions, but there are several good books out there to help you. The book of Job is a great one. As awful as these moments are, you can use them to help strengthen your child’s faith.
  • If it is an ongoing situation, (for example it was several days after 9/11 before we could track down all of our friends and make sure they were safe) try to provide light, happy moments for your children. It doesn’t have to be laugh out-loud fun, but it should provide a break from all of the heavy emotions swirling around them. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel and they need to know you can see it. If you are too involved to participate, allow them to watch their favorite cartoon or have a special dessert. It may even do you some good to take a short break from the constant stress yourself.
  • If your children seem to be having reactions stronger than would be expected or last longer than the children around them, you probably need to check in with your pediatrician. Some children feel things more deeply than others and short term therapy can teach them coping strategies. If your child has inherited the gene for a mental illness, these genes can sometimes be triggered by extremely stressful events, especially during the teen years. Early intervention can help your child manage the condition better.
  • Find out how your family can help. Becoming actively involved in the solution and helping people recover from tragedy, often helps take our focus away from fear and on to service and God. Make sure to carefully vet any organization you may want to become involved with in helping the victims. Many false charities take advantage of these situations and even a few of the more famous ones are often not the most effective. A local congregation is often the best at quickly and efficiently helping those hurt by any situation. Be patient, as they are often receiving calls from around the world offering help and their telephone lines can be busy for hours at a time.

No child should ever have to be exposed to the ugly things in the world caused by hatred and sin. Unfortunately, almost every child will at some point. We can help our children grow stronger instead of being permanently scarred when these things do happen. Hopefully these tips will get you started.

Published by

Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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